"Corporations don’t have artistic integrity; people do.”
So says Brian Fargo, the man behind Kickstarter-funded turn-based top-down RPG Wasteland 2. He argues that, free from the meddling of metrics-obsessed Powerpoint jockeys and Spreadsheet Sallys, he and his team are free to create the game they envision, not some marketing-muddied version.
It’s the rebel yell of games development in 2012, the glorious year when talent rose up and took back the streets, or at least the basements, porta-offices and co-working cafes.
Fargo should know. Since he started making games in the late 1970s, he’s seen the business from every angle. He was one of the original bedroom-developers, banging out games that made money, mostly for distant, exploitative publishing companies.
Then he created his own publishing company, Interplay, making awesome hits like Fallout, Baldur’s Gate and Descent and working with other developers. But, of course, it all went Tony Montana. The company grew too big and corporate and IPOs, money, egos, blah-blah. And so he stalked off to create that thing of ubiquity, the 21st Century entertainment start-up, grafting away once again at making games for other publishers or trying his luck with the App Store.
And then, lo and behold, Kickstarter and Steam descended like beatific angels, and with a wave of their shining fingers they unshackled the talent from Evil Corporations and allowed creators to do what they want without the interference of marketing-types.
That, at least, is the story we are happy to enjoy in this rosy glow of the revolution’s first budding. Bliss it is in that dawn to be alive, and all that.
Sort of uncomfortably, there is an argument that corporations – meaning large gatherings of able people working in concert towards a common goal – can and do create marvellous things. Although they generally do it best when someone with talent, authority and creative freedom is in charge.
Fargo understands as much. Speaking at the recent Unite Conference, as reported by GI Biz, he said, "The best creative work we’re seeing is from creative people who have the power, or the financing, to control their destinies. These visionaries can be within an organization: Rockstar would not achieve the level of quality it does if Sam Houser wasn’t running that place with an iron fist. He’s not a corporation; he’s a person."
He said, “This sort of integrity impacts on production and how a property is exploited. There are employees of these organizations that have this integrity, but they don’t have the power to do anything about it.”
Fargo’s company inXile is making Wasteland 2, a game that publishers repeatedly turned down. It’s a post-apocalyptic adventure in which the player controls a group as they travel through a dangerous world. Emotionally difficult decisions are promised as well as strategic complexity. It sounds like a really interesting game, especially given the pedigree of the original, generally considered to be the spiritual parent of the Fallout series.
The firm’s Kickstarter video savages the sort of BS that creative games-makers are forced to face when seeking to gain access to large markets through bloated, risk-averse companies. Middle-managers are portrayed as clueless, sluggish, disingenuous oafs. This may reflect the absolute reality of Fargo’s recent experiences, or it may be the natural frustration of a man trying to pitch a top-down turn-based RPG to companies that make most of their money from first-person shooters, gruff action-adventures and sports games. Alas, such organizations are generally reluctant to try to sell something that offers no solid evidence of success.
Too late for them, that evidence has been produced via Kickstarter. The Wasteland 2 campaign sought $900,000 and turned in almost $3 million. Partly due to a natural enthusiasm for this new way of funding games? Perhaps, but also because people believe in Fargo’s vision, his ability to deliver. Also, they really, really want to play a new Wasteland game, even though it’s been almost 25 years since the original was released.
Fargo said, “We’ve been working on Wasteland 2 for about 100 days, with no distractions from any kind of corporate overlord. We have hundreds of pages of design done, we have our first music in, we have our basic UI up-and-running, and we’ve taken our first screenshots. The bottom line is that, without any interruption, we’re kicking ass."
We can all name dozens of games, hundreds of games, that are made by ‘corporations’. But Fargo points out that the best games are really made by individuals with strong support-networks. He named Shigeru Miyamoto, Yu Suzuki, Hideo Kojima, Ken Levine. Strong personalities are needed to push-back against the overbearing quarterly-target-obsessed, zombies-in-suits. "They can keep the craziness at bay, he said.
Writing about this project back in March for IGN, Kristan Reed noted, “I doubt I’m alone in feeling that the freedom to create the game without external influences will be a huge blessing for Fargo. Were a Wasteland remake to be backed by one of the usual suspects, you can bet that any attempt to revive the classic top-down, turn-based formula would be instantly laughed out of the room. More likely, it’d end up as a generic first person Fallout clone.”
For sure, it is marvelous that we have an alternative to absolute corporate control of gaming output. For a few years there, it was looking grim, when the only real options were games that had been vetted, stamped and stripped by teams of accountants. Now we have actual developers bringing games directly to us, without any interference from people who have never made a game, and probably rarely play them.
Will this new freedom sweep in an age of unalloyed creative awesome? Will the corporations atomize and fade before our unsympathetic gaze? Likely not. Large companies, whether they be ‘nice’ like Valve or ‘nasty’ like you-know-who, are still valuable sponsors of great games, large and small. Groups of people, working together and without an obvious creative leader, do sometimes create unexpectedly innovative games.
But it’s good that we now have a world in which something like Wasteland 2 can be realized, and made the way its creator intends, without the patronage and attending meddling of outside forces.
Source : feeds[dot]ign[dot]com